Friday 1 May 2009

Wind Rivers Ski Tour With Igloos

Two weeks have passed since I returned from the Wind River Range and in between writing articles for TGO, visiting Edinburgh for the Richard Dawkins lecture and the Anatom Academy (see the two previous posts) and enjoying the freshness and colour of the slowly developing spring woodlands I’ve been sorting the nearly 1000 images I took on the trip and letting my memories settle. Ten nights in the snowbound woods and mountains is an intense experience, made more so on this trip by the absence of any other people.

The Wind Rivers are a relatively remote range and access isn’t easy, especially in winter when most of the approach roads are closed by snow, so we began on the margin between civilisation and wilderness at the White Pine Ski Resort, a pleasant, friendly place. The chair lift took the six of us up Fortification Mountain and the first ski run was down a piste. Soon though we were crossing the tape marking the edge of the resort and entering the untracked woods.

Ed Huesers, inventor of the ingenious Icebox igloo building tool we used to build our snow homes, had done the route planning using Google Earth and this worked really well, especially in regard to our three igloo sites, which were all spectacular. We spent four nights at the first site, where we built two igloos, as most of the party were not continuing after this time. Exploring the ridge we were camped on and skiing the nearby slopes and woods without having to tow a heavy sled was a joy. The views east to the long rippling line of the main Wind River summits were superb and the snow was just soft enough to make turns easy without being too unsupportive when gliding on the flat. We prospected two routes towards the second igloo site and discovered the markers for old abandoned cross country ski trails.

Wishing that they could continue with us Ed and I said farewell to our companions – Roy Wagner, Tony Condon, Pat Huesers and Mike Meyer - and skied into the woods, emerging after a long day to build an igloo on an open slope with a view to the southern end of the Wind Rivers. Up to now the weather had been mostly pleasant with a mix of sun and clouds and some light snow. At igloo 2 this changed to low cloud and heavier snow. Reaching the site and building the igloo had taken until the early hours of the morning so the first stormy day we spent resting and exploring the immediate environs of the igloo. By the following day the clouds were even lower, brushing the tops of the trees and drifting through the meadows, giving the wilderness a mysterious air. Seeing nothing but mist, snow and trees we broke trail to Eklund Lake. Returning the next day the clouds had lifted a little and the mountains had reappeared, if still a little hazy. Beyond the lake we hauled our sleds up a knoll, a difficult task as the bases iced up badly so we had to stop and scrape them clean then treat them with wax to try and stop it happening again. Once up at 10,500 feet with a fantastic view of the high peaks we built our third and most splendidly situated igloo. Swirling clouds, deep red sunsets, golden dawns and magnificent timberline trees surrounded by a complex world of glacial knobs and moraines cloaked in dark forest and split by white meadows and frozen lakes and all backed by steep granite peaks made this one of the finest snow camps I’ve ever had.

After a day around igloo 3 we returned to igloo 2 via a dramatic view into the depths of cliff-lined Fremont Canyon for a last night before the ski out to White Pine. The first snow free ground was just appearing round the base of some of the trees as we skied through the last meadows in the now soft and sticky snow. Winter was ending and I knew I’d be putting my skis away until next season.

Photo info: Dawn on Fremont Peak. Canon EOS 450D, Canon EF-S 55-250mm IS@250mm, 1/160@F5.6, ISO 200, raw file converted to JPEG in Lightroom 2.

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